Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Mishmash of Inspirations

Nobody writes in a vacuum. The folklorists tell us that all stories boil down to a few basic plots that have been used since the dawn of time. I won't enumerate them here, but they are so common they have become instinctive. Hollywood works the same way. Currently, they are focused on comic book superhero movies, which all feel the same. For a while, they did musician biopics. Hell, "Walk the Line" and "Ray" were practically the same movie.

My point is that there are structures to stories that the writer falls instinctively into. Right now I'm starting on a story and as I write the first scene I find that I'm thinking of "Mystic Pizza." As I go further into the love story, I'm thinking of "Braveheart" (don't worry, the girl isn't going to have her throat cut, but she does hide the relationship from her family and the discovery of it does prompt a war between sides). There is also a "Gattaca-ish" element to the story.

This may sound like a mishmash, but it is, in fact, a cohesive whole, and when you read it, you won't realize that the scene where the poor kids run into the rich kids loosely follows a similar situation in "Mystic Pizza". Movies act like visual guide posts, reminding us of the structures that already exist that we can mold into our own. 

If you want to write, watch the movies. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Back on the NaNoWriMo merry-go-round

So. It's been one year since I started my novel. On November 1, 2012 I started to write about this "fun idea" I had. I didn't make the nanowrimo goal of 50,000 words, but I got a respectable 20,000 words in that month. Over the next eleven months I wrote another 84,000 words, mostly on Saturday mornings. A couple of weeks ago I finished the damned thing and sent it out to a few people to read. This past weekend was the first in ages where I didn't write. It felt weird. Unmoored and untethered. I've determined that I shall put the novel out of my mind until people get back to me with their reviews. Initial comments are promising.

Now. This is the first day of nanowrimo and I have no idea of what I will work on. I'm sure it will come to me.

Hopefully soon.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

That sound you hear is not a cat coughing up a fur ball...

...but me gagging as I read the latest NYTimes "By the Book" interview.

I suppose there are real people who are impeccably cultured and intelligently discuss collections of obscure Italian short stories, has read the same novel in three languages, and name drops poets she meets in Rome, but...what am I saying--that person really does exist. Her name is Jhumpa Lahiri. I own two of her books though I haven't read them yet. There's no rush since they were purchased for fifty cents at library book sales. With full-price books I feel the need to read them immediately to get my money out of them, but with second-hand books, I let them sit around until I'm in urgent need of morning commuter train reading material, and then I rush into my library, pull a book off the shelf, and fly out the door, secure in the knowledge that if my train breaks down for an hour in a tunnel, at least I won't be bored. After reading this interview with Jhumpa, I may be leaving hers on the shelf a little longer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A new way to pay the bills

This couple in Detroit was on the verge of losing their home after job downturns so they got creative, retreated to their basement, and started cranking out steamy novels which they self-published. They wrote 20 novels in six months and are now best-sellers.

This is the dream for me (minus the erotic novels part).

Read the inspiring story here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reading Resolutions

So far I've failed in every single one of my New Year's Resolutions. Not surprising. I've decided to set myself some reading resolutions, which ought to be much easier to keep. I wasn't an English major so I never read many of the writers I feel that I should have, and I wasn't in the right frame of mind in highschool to appreciate most of what we covered then (The Great Gatsby, for instance). It may be the middle of the year, but it's never too late to start on a rigorous program of self-education.

1. Read something by Faulkner

2. Read something by Flannery O'Connor

3. Read something by Somerset Maugham

4. World War Z

Monday, June 3, 2013

The First Thing I Ever Wrote

The first time I decided to write was in the middle of a war. I still remember when the idea came to me. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe under the palm fronds, watching the displaced persons (in older times they would have been called refugees) swell the size of the crowd passing by on the sidewalk. It was so peaceful there in that cafe while I sipped my coffee. So peaceful and hard to believe that not too far away people were fighting and dying.

I wished they weren't.

Seriously, these two countries have so much to offer the world in terms of brain power and energy. If they were allies, they'd be unstoppable. And the food! Italy and France might as well just surrender now because they would never win that competition.

I sat in that cafe and suddenly saw two people thrown together in the war. I loved them from the first moment I saw them, but I could never complete the story simply because I did not have cultural access to the 10 million details I would need to create a believable story.

But I didn't need knowledge to write the first scene. I just needed to bring them together briefly. Here it is, the first thing I ever wrote, nearly seven years ago.

The Prologue to "Katyusha Country"
Grit filled her mouth.
The stream of popping bullets sometimes sounded far away and at other times close enough for her to have pulled the trigger herself. Amal thought she might suffocate in the rocky grotto underneath the crumbling wall of a ruined Crusader outpost. The space had seemed barely big enough for a family of rabbits, but somehow she and Itai had squeezed themselves into the hollowed out space, pulling leafy branches behind them to mask the opening. Her back was pushed against the back rock wall of the grotto and her cheek rested against Itai’s shoulder. In the bud of Itai’s military earpiece, she could hear a whisper of a foreign language. Occasionally, he would whisper back in the same language so quietly it might have been the rustle of a leaf.
His arms were wrapped protectively around her. Before the war they had joked that they would have to meet in a neutral third country. Switzerland, perhaps, but more likely Turkey. The mountains of Southern Lebanon had seemed eternally off limits.
Itai bent his head in order to whisper in her ear. His breath warmed it. He told her to stay hidden until the sun was high in the sky. Amal bit her lip to keep from making any noise, and nodded her head to show that she understood. He kissed her hair, squeezed her shoulders and then crawled quickly out of the crevice into the dangerous night, replacing the branches to conceal it. More gunfire erupted and Amal was left alone in the dark, feeling the weight of the heavy earth press down upon her.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Laying it out

I write by the seat of my pants. I've tried doing outlines, but I've never gotten the hang of it, probably because I don't know what comes next. How can I write an outline if I can't see beyond a few key scenes? Here are people that see the whole picture and can rearrange it like a puzzle. Check out these examples of outlining mastery from several noted authors.
Joseph Heller's outline for Catch 22

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dreams and Nightmares

My dream is to self-publish and become a smashing success that is picked up by a big publishing company (no e-rights!) and optioned for a movie. Just like Colleen Hoover.

My nightmare is to self-publish, be completely ignored, and then go on to write about that in the hopes that I will no longer be ignored. Just like this guy.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Missed Call Is No Longer Possible

I marvel every time I use my smartphone. I can make phone calls, take pictures, talk to anyone in the world face to face or via any number of social media apps, find any piece of information I need, play games, read books, shop, read mail.


It's magical when you stop to think about it. Five years ago we couldn't do this.

Five years ago we could still use a missed phone call as a plot device. Or a message on an answering machine, with it's blinking light, waiting to be heard. Or a letter gone astray. Or Humphrey Bogart waiting in the rain for Ingrid Bergman. Today she would have texted him to tell him it was over and there would be no rain streaked goodbye note that reached him just as the train was puffing out of the station, out of Paris, and out of her life.

We can reach and be reached at any hour. We can know anything at any time. It is impossible--or at least very difficult and with many lame excuses involved--not to be reachable. I suppose someone can forget their smartphone at home, but SERIOUSLY, who does that? It's like my handheld brain at this point. You wouldn't leave home without your brain, would you?

All of this is to say that writing stories set in the contemporary world is quite difficult. Stories require a little bit of mystery or unknowing. A missed connection here or there.

For example, "Twilight" came out at the right time because it made more sense back then (yes, 2005 is back then. makes you want to cry, doesn't it?) because not every teenager was expected to carry a mobile phone. So there was mystery and wondering where he was, what he was, and if she would see him again.  If Twilight were published today it would consist entirely of Bella and Edward texting, snapchatting, facebooking and whatever else teens do when they're flirting. And the girls of Forks High School probably would have created a Tumblr page devoted to Edward, filled with pictures of him snapped on their phones. The Cullens would have been all over the internet and their cover blown pretty quickly. After all, fifty years later those photos will still be as fresh as the day they were taken. There will be no restarting life in a new town.

Which is perhaps why so many stories these days take place in the Eighties. Have you noticed? The Eighties were the last era before computers and cell phones were ubiquitous. The last time when you could curl the telephone cord around your finger while gossiping or had to run home before you missed a crucial call. In fact, the Eighties were probably the last time a public phone booth would have made sense in a story (though this fact did make an excellent plot device of its own in Phone Booth, but that's been done now and can never be done again.).

What I'm struggling with is how to leave in the mystery, the missed connections, unknowingness of things when everything can be known.

Any tips?

Sunday, March 31, 2013


I can't figure out how to add links to blogs on the right. I don't even know how I did it the first time.

The Omega Approach to the Good Life

I have let the blog lag and it's not due to busyness or intense focus on writing. Instead, I find that as soon as I arrive home from work each day, every single thing I had on my mental to-do list immediately flies up the chimney and evaporates into the clouds. Even posting a link on the blog feels like too much work. I watch in awe those people who work, truck their kids to multiple activities, actually play with those kids, help with homework, make dinner, clean the house and still have energy for hobbies and socializing.

Perhaps one of the reasons I feel so tired after work is because it is emotionally draining. I am in the unique position of working with youngish adults who will make far more than my yearly salary in their very first year of working life, and it will only go up from there. They have never felt a moment of insecurity in their lives. They go straight from the loving arms of their middle-to-upper-middle-class families, to college, to graduate school, to high paying jobs. Their families are always in the background to give them emotional and financial support. They've always been comfortable. They've never had to stand on their own two feet and stare into the abyss and walk that fine line each day along the edge of it, hoping not to fall in. No, they are 100% secure.

...Which is why it infuriates me and breaks my heart each day to listen to these "Omegas" (Children of Men reference. Read the book and don't watch the moronic movie), talk about how evil wealthy people are and how their wealth needs to be taken from them. I will never earn as much as these youngsters, but they are the ones who envy the wealthy (only they don't call it envy, they call it redistribution for the common good, but whose good?).

 I don't envy the wealthy because I aspire to be wealthy and successful.

Don't these spoiled children realize that when they seek to punish the rich, they are cutting off the dream of escape for the rest of us? Why should I work hard or try to develop my talents if the end result will be punishment if I succeed? What these children don't realize now--because they are still only earning student wages--is that this knife they are holding to my throat--can one day be turned on them.

Only it won't.

They will be so successful that no amount of taxation will affect them and they will continue to vote as they do. Or the taxation and regulations will affect them, but they won't connect the dots to see that they are suffering by their own hands. Instead they will double down on their ideology and continue to blame the rich for not voluntarily relinquishing every penny they've ever made, as if the combined treasure of a small percentage of the population were really enough to make even a symbolic dent in the debt when the real problem is the way we spend money.

Sarah Hoyt wrote a fantastic post on the problem of envy that touches upon what I've been experiencing with the Omegas: that while they don't see anything wrong with themselves making lots of money (because they are the good people, you know), they don't think anyone else is entitled to striving for the same thing:

I don’t want to bring people down to my level, though I often want to get up to theirs, and sometimes – mostly on my friends’ behalf – I get a little annoyed when people who have a lot with a lot of help think I’m a lower life form because I’m stuck where I am (or my friends are where they are).
But we’ve got – partly because of the idea of Marxist economics, I THINK, in which everything is zero sum and if you have something it means I can’t have it; but also because of this odd idea that seems to affect mostly boomers (no idea why) that anyone who succeeds is crooked and must be brought low – to a place in society where we glorify envy.
People are considered worthy, not because of how hard they’re working or because they’re decent people and good friends, but because they’re “disadvantaged.” I.e. they’re in a bad position, and this alone entitles them to bring others down to elevate themselves. And people who are successful – at least in all books and movies – are considered somehow crooked and evil because they’re successful.
I don’t understand this. I don’t think that a society as a society can survive this sort of upside down idea.
Yeah, the romanticization of the poor by people who will never be poor makes me want to gag.

Ok, so why did I bring up all this heavy economic stuff on my fluffy writing blog? 1) Because I want to be a successful and wealthy writer one day (heck, I'll settle for "comfortable" at this point), and 2) Because the same type of envy exists among writers as well.

Look, I'm acquainted with a writer who is currently blazing her way to success 95% because she's a fabulous writer, but also because she's a gorgeous blonde who still has a chistled chin and clavicles even after having two children (yeah, life's unfair, but that's what this blog post is about: not envying the inequality of outcomes). Her looks allow her to write things that lesser mortals just can't get away with. I'm THRILLED to see her succeed and don't wish her to be less talented or less pretty simply because the combination of the two is helping her along. It's inspiring to know that she made it. Is making it. Full stop.

And there are other writers out there who also seem to have an easier time, but you know what, I'm happy for them too. I don't need to punish them in order for me to succeed. I want them to succeed and I want to succeed. I don't need to redistribute their success into a literal version of Harrison Bergeron, which is what people today are attempting.

Trust me, there's enough success out there for us all, but guaranteeing the attainment is impossible. Ditch the envy. Strive for success.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Are you a writer?

Today I received the greatest compliment ever. It was on Facebook so maybe it doesn't count, but a complete stranger asked if I was a writer. I asked what made her think that and the stranger replied that she really loved the way my sentences flowed.

Well, now!

Maybe I'm not as completely hopeless as I thought. Thank you, stranger, for validating all the lonely years.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Current Count

164 pages / 49,043 words

This is going so slooooowly because I'm making up the story as I go. Bad idea, I guess.

True fact

It is impossible to write when hungry. I have a blessed two hours to myself and all I can think about is food, but there is none around.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Life Styles of the Rich and Published

Why do I write?

Because I've read so much I now have stories of my own itching to get out. But even more motivating, I want a career where I am my own boss, where I don't have to go to a "real job" every day and put up with people whom I see far more often than my own child, but like a whole lot less.

What kind of income do I expect?

I'm humble. I would love enough yearly income to quit my day job plus enough to save for "retirement" and not to stress that my bank account will laugh and then weep whenever I buy an Egg McMuffin because there simply aren't enough nickels to pay for it. I shouldn't feel guilty for buying an occasional breakfast! I definitely don't expect a Stephen King or JK Rowling income. Really, I just want to earn enough to quit my job and get my future secured.

Anything past those humble goals are a helicopter. If I was a bestselling author like Patricia Cornwell, I might buy my own helicopter and luxury apartments in Trump Tower. Patricia Cornwell, you are a rockstar. Spend it how you want, but don't assign responsibility for it to others. Those people you hire are guidance counselors, not your babysitters calling all the shots. You must accept responsibility for your career and your earnings and your spending. You are obviously a smart lady, but the diva behavior (I'm a writer and can't be distracted by such petty concerns as money) is very unbecoming and will get you into deep doo doo, as it already has.

Interestingly enough, this is the second article this week I've read about a successful writer with bi-polar disorder who has found herself in financial distress. Can you guess who the first is?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Way of Doing Things

It's too easy to let a week go by without getting any writing done. If I wait only for Saturdays, then I will end up with very little. Nanowrimo taught me that it's easier than I thought to get some words written after the Munchkin goes to sleep. Thus, my resolutions for the new year are:

1. Write 500 words per day even if it's garbage.

2. Finish the nanowrimo story (I'm on page 124. Only another 200 to go!)

3.. Send out my short stories until one gets published...then keep sending out the unpublished ones until they get published too. Honestly, I've read some total dreck in fiction magazines. Is mine worse than that stuff? Not likely.

This is the year, people. Let's get this done!